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    Who invented frozen food?


    Several individuals, but most credit Clarence Birdseye.

Of course, frozen food has always existed in climates that were cold enough for the food to freeze. Many people developed innovative food-freezing techniques, including Enoch Piper, William Davis, and Daniel E. Somes. However, Clarence Birdseye is credited with inventing in 1924 the quick freezing method, which produces the type of frozen foods that we know today.

While working as a fur trader in Labrador, NF, Canada, Birdseye discovered that the fish that he and the local Inuit caught froze almost immediately after being pulled from the water. He was delighted to discover that the fish was just as delicious when thawed out months later. From this experience, he theorized that food must be frozen very quickly in order for it to retain its taste and texture.

Birdseye was right. Before quick-freezing came along, foods were frozen at a fairly slow rate. This caused large ice crystals to form, which ruptured the cell membranes of the food. When the food was defrosted, the ice crystals melted and water would leak out, taking with it the food’s flavor and texture.

Birdseye developed two methods for quick freezing foods, both of which employed the innovation of packaging the food beforehand. In the first technique, the package was held between two metal belts that were chilled to -40°F to -45°F using a calcium chloride solution.

In the second and more popular technique, the packaged food was held under pressure between two hollow metal plates that were chilled to -25°F by the evaporation of ammonia. Using this method, a two-inch-thick package of meat could be frozen to 0°F in about 90 minutes, while fruits and vegetables took about 30 minutes.

Birdseye’s quick-freezing process actually ended up creating 168 patents! These covered not only the freezing technique but also the packaging, type of paper used, and related innovations.

Fun Fact: March is National Frozen Food Month!

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Library of Congress Web SiteFurther Reading
  • Follette, Gordon. Frozen foods: the formative years. 100 years of refrigeration: a supplement to ASHRAE journal. ASHRAE journal, v. 46, Nov. 2004: S35-39.
  • Frozen vegetables. In How products are made: an illustrated guide to product manufacturing. Edited by Jacqueline L. Longe. v.5. Detroit, Gale Research, c2000.
    p. 210-215.
    Also available online at
  • In the beginning. Frozen food age, v. 51, Dec. 2002: 26-38.
  • Kurlansky, Mark. Frozen in time: Clarence Birdseye's outrageous idea about frozen food. New York, Delacorte Press, [2014]. 165 p.
  • Peterson, Tiffany. Clarence Birdseye. Chicago, Heinemann Library, c2003. 32 p. (Juvenile).
  • Volti, Rudi. The development of frozen foods. ASHRAE journal, v. 37, Jun 1995: 69-71.
  • Volti, Rudi. How we got frozen food. American heritage of invention and technology, v. 9, Spring 1994: 46-56.
  • The War years – and boom: 1941-1945. Frozen food age, v. 46, Aug. 1997: 46-47.

SearchFor more print resources...
Search on "cold storage," "cookery frozen foods," "frozen foods," or "home freezers" in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Photo of a little girl in front of a freezer along with her mother who is holding a ration book.Preparation for point rationing. While mother keeps handy her war ration book two, daughter examines the frozen foods which require removal of point stamps. Prints &
Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Photo of a man emptying a tub of green beans into a large box.  Another worker and an assembly line are behind him.
Bridgeton, New Jersey. Seabrook Farm. Packing Birds Eye frozen foods. Prints &
Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Photo:  examples of frozen foods
Examples of frozen foods. Image Number K7225-2. Photo from the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

Photo of a man looking in a grocery store freezer.
Man looking in grocery store freezer.
Photo from Energy Star website.

Photo of workers removing frozen foods from the quick freezer.
Bridgeton, New Jersey. Seabrook Farm. Frozen food coming out of the quick freezer. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

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 September 28, 2018
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